Aug 2, 2023 Ocean Pines Progress Special Report

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SPECIAL REPORT

AUG. 2, 2023

433-359-7527 • 127 Nottingham Lane, Ocean Pines. MD. 21811

Board votes to push back election dates two weeks

Because some Ocean Pines Association members still had not received ballots for this summer’s Board of Directors election by Aug. 1, the deadline for returning and counting ballots has been extended by two weeks.

During a special meeting of the Board on the evening of Aug. 1, the directors unanimously agreed to conduct an email vote the following day confirming the two-week delay.

The Board on Aug. 2 unanimously agreed to push back the return of ballots two weeks from Aug. 8 to Aug. 22, the counting of ballots from Aug. 10 to Aug. 24, and the annual meeting of the OPA from Aug. 12 to Aug. 26.

Because the Assateague Room of the Community Center was already booked on Aug. 26 for another event, the annual meeting has been scheduled for the Golf clubhouse meeting room, beginning at 9 a.m.

The special meeting was called at the request of directors Colette Horn and Steve Jacobs to consider two agenda items.

The first was a discussion of the Board’s email vote from the prior week to remove Amy Peck as a member of the OPA’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee. Over the objections of Jacobs and Horn, the Board voted 4-2 to reaffirm its vote to remove Peck.

Most of the Aug. 1 special meeting was devoted to a discussion of how to respond to the failure of the OPA’s new elections vendor, Election Trust of Bainbridge Island, Washington state, to mail ballots to OPA members by a July 11 deadline.

Elections Committee Chair Tom Piatti told the Progress that a subcontractor of Elections Trust delivered the ballots to a local post office on July 18, and they were entered into the system for mailing a day later.

This in turn resulted in the late arrival of ballots in the mailboxes of eligible voters. Many Ocean Pines residents had received ballots on Tuesday, July 25, but the OPA and the Elections Committee received complaints that some ballots still had not arrived by Aug. 1.

In addition, voters who mailed their ballots back on July 25 had not received email confirmation from Election Trust as of Aug. 1 that their ballots had been received by the vendor to be counted.

OPA Director and Vice President Rick Farr in a text to the Progress said another factor in the decision to push back the entire process by two weeks involved requests for replacement ballots by those who say they didn’t receive them.

“The original dates wouldn’t allow enough time for these replacement ballots to be provided and then voted by OPA members,” Farr said. “We as a Board want to ensure that that all our members have ample time to receive and vote their ballots, either dropping them in the mail or depositing them in the dropbox at the police station.”

Farr said that having “our membership votes count is my priority and the priority of the Board. Delaying the return deadline and the count for two weeks ensures sufficient time for this.”

Farr also said that Piatti and the Elections Committee were in full support of the two-week extension.

“This is not the fault of the Elections Committee,” he said of the delay. “They are doing a great job of monitoring the election process and protecting the interests of OPA members.”

Jacobs and Horn began the discussion during the special meeting by observing that the lateness of the ballots’ arrival could result in some voters getting their ballots back to Washington state too late to be counted. Horn said she had heard that some voters didn’t receive their ballots

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by the reported July 25.

Jacobs contended that those who hadn’t received ballots, and requested replacements, would be even more likely to be disenfranchised by the possibility that their ballots would arrive in Washington state too late to be counted.

Parks responded to Jacobs and Horn, indicating he was open to adjusting the dates for returning and counting of ballots. Directors Farr, Stuart Lakernick and Monica Rakowski followed suit.

The prior week, the Board majority had seemed reluctant to change any of the dates. But that attitude evolved with reports that ballots still had not been received by some voters.

The directors debated the merits of a week delay, a twoweek delay, or waiting a few days to allow Piatti to come up with additional information on the number of ballots that had arrived in Washington state the week of Aug. 1.

Horn suggested that waiting a few days to come up with new dates would not be a problem, but it was clear that most of the directors wanted to arrive at a decision during the special meeting and in a formal email vote the following day to make it official.

The consensus was that adding two weeks to the original dates would suffice and would be enough time to allow voters to send their ballots back in plenty of time.

Directors also debated whether it was necessary to change the date of the annual meeting from Saturday, Aug. 12.

While it might not have been technically necessary to change the date, the consensus emerged that it would be better to delay this date, too, on the recommendation of new General Counsel Bruce Bright, attending his first meeting of the Board since his appointment.

Bright said an important purpose of the annual meeting is the certification of election results, and that would only be possible if the annual meeting was rescheduled after Election Trust conducted the vote count.

OPA by-laws say that if there is no quorum of 100 membership attending the meeting, either in person or remotely, the old Board can’t certify the election results at the annual meeting.

Instead, that happens whenever the old Board can meet in a special meeting to certify the results.

The two-week delay in the process means that Parks and Horn, who are retiring from the Board this summer, are having their terms extended by at least two weeks, possibly a few days longer if there is no quorum at the rescheduled Aug. 26 annual meeting.

In an interview with the Progress the last week of July, it was clear that Piatti was not happy with the late arrival of ballots.

At the time he was not promoting the idea of a delay.

“We had a bonafide contract for the mailing of 7,781 ballots,” he said, with roughly ten percent of the lots in Ocean Pines ineligible to vote because of unpaid assessments or compliance issues.

“We still need to finish the election, but there will be

repercussions for the late ballots, believe me,” Piatti said.

In a press release issued by the OPA, he made it clear the problem was not with the U.S. Postal Service.

While he said the matter will need to be thoroughly vetted post election, preliminary indications are that a subcontractor hired by Election Trust to print, stuff and mail the ballots, a firm called PMA Direct Marketing of Kent, Washington, failed to get the job done on time, for reasons that Piatti and his committee have yet to determine.

“They’ve not been forthcoming,” he said of Election Trust, clearly unhappy that details were not being provided. But he said it’s not a good idea to “beat up” on the contractor now because so much of the process still needs to unfold, and it’s possible that all will go flawlessly until the vote count occurs.

During discussion at the Aug. 1 special meeting, Horn clearly had not gotten the memo about avoiding overt criticism of the vendor until the election process is completed.

She said that Election Trust had violated the contract and that she had no confidence in anything that company representatives say about the process going forward.

She asserted that OPA members were having to deal with the fact that another failed election process is unfolding.

Lakernick said he disagreed with Horn’s characterization that the election process had already failed. He said it’s possible that the remaining aspects of the election will be handled appropriately by Election Trust.

Farr, too, indicated he was not prepared to join Horn in condemning the vendor and, by extension, the Elections Committee for its handling of the election so far.

Piatti said there be benchmarks along the way to measure how well the process is proceeding, with the vendor periodically giving the committee updates on the number of votes cast.

The first update was due on Friday, Aug. 4, but Piatti said he wasn’t sure that this update will be an accurate gauge on what’s likely to happen throughout the process.

He said it’s still too early to determine whether the delay in ballots arriving will adversely affect election participation, which in recent years has been less than 40 percent of eligible voters.

He also said it’s too soon to know whether Election Trust’s contract with the OPA will be renewed for the 2024 election.

“That’s up to the Board,” he said, “but we’ve been subjected to a lot of stress” from critics in the community. “They (Election Trust) didn’t meet the terms of the contract,” and there will be discussions with the vendor on possible remedies short of the vendor losing next year’s contract.

One possible remedy could be a negotiated reduction in the fees to be paid Election Trust this year, he said.

“We’ll get to all that, but right now we still need to finish the election,” he said.

Piatti said there had been initial agreement on the u

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committee and the Board of Directors not to change the deadline for return of the ballots in Washington state. But by the special meeting of Aug. 1, that agreement had dissipated.

Piatti acknowledged that there had been some discussion at the committee and Board level to extend voting a week to reflect the week’s delay in the arrival of ballots in the homes of voters.

During the special meeting, Parks commented that pushing the deadlines back two weeks could be criticized on the grounds that the directors were manipulating the election.

But he said in the end the directors had to make the best decision they could to ensure that OPA members had an opportunity to vote and have their votes counted.

As of Aug. 1, OPA voters had not received any email confirmation that their ballots had arrived in Washington state, but such confirmation was expected by the end of the week.

As previously reported, Piatti said only those with active email addresses on file with the OPA will receive email confirmation that their ballots have been received and recorded, noting that roughly 2500 OPA members don’t have valid email addresses.

He said the plan to remotely view the ballot count via online streaming remains in place. Only now the new date is Aug. 24.

There have been reports that a delegation of critics of this year’s election process are planning to fly to Seattle and drive to the offices of Election Trust to observe the count in person.

Farr, who serves as the Board’s liaison to the Elections Committee, said they’re free to do so but he called it an overreaction and has nothing to do with election integrity.

“Yes, the ballots were late,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean there will be anything wrong with the count, and their presence if they actually do this isn’t going to help.”

In the end he said he doubted if any of the critics would “hop a plane” to Washington state.

With the expectation that Election Trust will be able to accommodate the new dates, ballots would be counted Aug. 24 beginning at 5 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, with results announced that day.

The vote count will be live streamed via a link that will be provided on the OPA Website and in press releases.

Although no one is pleased with the late arrival of ballots, the vendor did follow through with one objective of the OPA this year: one ballot for every eligible lot.

Of the 7800 or so lots in good standing with paid up annual lot assessments and no established violations on record with the OPA’s Department of Compliance, Permits and Inspections, each is supposed to receive ballots, a departure of practice of recent years in which owners of multiple lots only received one ballot.

Last year, such owners were told that they had to request additional ballots from the OPA administration offices if they wanted to cast ballots for each lot owned, but it was an instruction that was not well communicated and thus some owners of multiple lots were to some extent disenfranchised.

To what extent that occurred has not been documented.

Last year’s voting included paper and electronic voting. The former Elections Committee tried to encourage owners of multiple lots to vote electronically, but the message either was not received or many of these voters preferred to cast paper ballots in the usual manner.

This year, the Board opted to return to paper ballots only, but the Elections Committee has indicated interest in resuming electronic voting next year, along with paper ballots. That was contingent in part on a smooth election process this year, which has not unfolded, at least in the early going.

It’s too early to know whether this will affect plans to adopt a hybrid paper ballot, e-voting system next year.

Peck asks OPA for emails about her dismissal from advisory committee

Former Ocean Pines Association Director Amy Peck is asking for copies of emails exchanged by members of the Board of Directors related to her ouster as a member of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee.

The request came into the OPA on Aug. 1, the week after the Board had voted via email to remove her.

Voting for her removal were OPA directors Doug Parks, Rick Farr, Stuart Lakernick and Monica Rakowski.

Opposed were directors Colette Horn and Steve Jacobs. Horn had argued that the Board’s email vote did not conform with OPA governing documents that require unanimous consent of the directors to act via email.

If unanimous consent doesn’t occur, then the directors are supposed to take action in a regular or special meeting.

At a special meeting Aug. 1, the four majority directors voted to confirm their earlier action removing Peck from the committee. She had been appointed at the June Board meeting, with four directors voting in favor. Parks abstained. Details of Peck’s ouster were covered in the August edition of the Progress [issuu. com/oceanpinesprogress].

Farr said in a Aug. 2 telephone interview that Peck’s request for the emails would be handled by General Counsel Bruce Bright. Farr said that she would be entitled to receive copies of the email because they’re considered records of the OPA. “Not sure how much there is,” he said.

Some of it might be inflammatory, according to Joe Reynolds of oceanpinesforum.com. He said one email he published on his site quoted one director as referring to Peck as “a cancer” that needed to be removed from the committee.

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4 Ocean Pines Progress SPECIAL REPORT AANNUAL NNUAL MEETING MEETING SATURDAY, AUGUST 26TH OCEAN PINES ASSOCIATION MEMBERS WILL BE CHECKED IN VALID ID WITH PHOTO REQUIRED ARRIVE AT LEAST 30 MINUTES EARLY FOR QUESTIONS CALL: 410.641.7717 OR EMAIL INFO@OCEANPINES.ORG FOR INFO ON ATTENDING VIRTUALLY, VISIT OCEANPINES.ORG 9 A.M. CLUBHOUSE MEETING ROOM, 100 CLUBHOUSE DRIVE, OCEAN PINES AT THE
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